The first thing one notices on approach to the Rolls-Royce Factory in Goodwood in Southern England – about 35 miles from Southampton – is that it looks nothing like a place that produces automobiles, even the luxurious bespoke ones that make up the Rolls-Royce line up. Instead, the corporate headquarters and environmentally friendly factory looks more like a beautifully constructed office park that fits perfectly into the pristine environment of the tree-lined Goodwood Estate.
Easily accessible to London – about a two-hour drive – with private airstrips nearby, this part of England is known for among other things, a variety of equestrian activities, including polo and horseracing.
At Goodwood there are two shifts of 1,600 employees chicly dressed in all black. However, the work areas are so light, airy and spacious, that one would never suspect there are more than a couple of dozen. There is a living roof and floor-to-ceiling light that creates a stimulating environment providing the added green benefit of being energy efficient.
Interestingly, many skilled employees at Goodwood hail from other, non-automotive industries. For example, former make-up and tattoo artists are employed in the wood shop and a former pub sign painter hand paints the coach lines. There are also those who have backgrounds and expertise in haute couture, saddle and furniture making and even the production of military officers’ uniforms. It quickly becomes clear that to create and engineer luxurious bespoke Rolls-Royce automobiles, it literally takes a village.
In the Atelier, buyers are faced with glorious interior and exterior possibilities for their dream drive. This includes specialized lighting to replicate the precise conditions where the owner’s Rolls will be driven.
I was then escorted to the Studio where buyers see their finished cars for the first time. Seated in a luxuriously enveloping sofa, the curtains behind me closed so that I would experience the same level of privacy that Rolls-Royce buyers do. Often the big reveal is accompanied by champagne or any other requested spirit, but I opted for a perfectly made latte. The Studio lights dimmed and accent music commenced. Then the curtains in front of me opened in tandem with a Hollywood level, light show. And there it was, “my” Rolls-Royce, maneuvering on a turnstile reflecting every iota of her luxurious architecture. I could not have been more thrilled to see the reveal had the vehicular beauty actually been my bespoke model.
Although every Rolls-Royce model is bespoke automotive luxury at its finest, the Phantom may be the pinnacle. Nowhere is this more evident than with the expanse of glass that runs across its fascia that because of its size, is suitably named the “Gallery.” This space permits a true artistic canvas of bespoke luxury.
As many Rolls-Royce owners are also art collectors, putting art into the Gallery was a logical next step for the automaker. This furthers Rolls-Royce’s bespoke notion as it permits artists to engage in a holy matrimonial trifecta of art, design and engineering.
This of course goes far beyond normative automotive luxury. This outsize ability to personalize the Rolls-Royce by the buyer permits an engagement in the process in a wholly unprecedented manner in the industry.
As the instrument panel is so streamlined, that it allows a very wide focal point of glass/fascia. So ultimately, the sky – or rather the fascia – is limited only by the buyer’s imagination and the artisan’s marriage to the skill of the talented design team. With this in mind, the Gallery glass thus becomes another unique location for Rolls-Royce to be bespoke in a truly unique and epically Rolls-Royce fashion.
This artistic interpretation permits a level of freedom unusual for automotive design. And that is one of the unique aspects of being a Rolls-Royce owner. The ability to be so much a part of this particular process which results in something so special and so unique that it completely resonates with the owner in such a way that it becomes an extension of them.
Michael Bryden, Rolls-Royce’s Lead Designer, indulged my curiosity in the Gallery art process.
What comes first, the artist or the design engineer?
The Rolls-Royce design team will have a detailed conversation with the buyer. The team will work with one of seven artists we commission, unless the buyer has someone specific in mind.
How much say does the patron have in the possibilities?
With repeat patrons, their passions, proclivities and hobbies are known, so we can make recommendations based on those. Their requests can be explored within the confines of vehicular realities of the Gallery. It is of course a hermetically sealed environment and hence climate changes, condensation, artificial aging, sun damage, vibration effect and of course safety issues must be explored and tested.
To date what has been the most unusual request?
One owner requested that a perspective of his hometown be portrayed in the Gallery. The artist was able to depict that city’s unusual skyline by using laser cut woods and metal. So even though he was far away, anytime he was in his Phantom he was reminded of home.
What was the most difficult request?
An owner wanted a very specific 24-karat gold plated image placed in the Gallery. This resulted in the largest piece of 3D metal being utilized in an automotive environment.
As Bryden noted, the ability to make the Gallery literally one’s own, is uniquely a Phantom offering. Thus providing a level of eccentricity only that Rolls-Royce can support.
After this introduction, I was then escorted to the exterior of the Cleanroom where the bespoke art and the Gallery meet. This is a tinted glass ISA Cleanroom that is very close to pharmaceutical grade. Workers are in full white, with sealed overalls, special shoes, hat, mask and hairnet. They also work with three sets of non-powder latex gloves that are closed at the wrist to prevent moisture leaks into the environment.
There are particle sensors with sirens running 24/7 in each of the three sections. The first section is the logistics area, the second is the preparations and the third is the operations/assembly, each of which is hermetically sealed from the other.
It was remarkable watching the employees in this space literally engaging in the coupling of art to technology. After four hours the process is complete and the Gallery is ready to join its forever home in the Phantom.
If you are in the market for the car of your dreams, then wherever your artistic imagination takes you, it is quite possible that the design engineering team of Rolls-Royce and the artists it commissions will take that idea and make a home for it in the Gallery. This way where ever your Phantom takes you, your dream will not only come true, but will also be driving along with you.
Julie L. Kessler is MoneyInc’s Managing Travel and Luxury Editor, a travel writer for several major publications, a legal columnist and attorney. She is also the author of the award-winning book: Fifty-Fifty, The Clarity of Hindsight. She can be reached at Julie@VagabondLawyer.com